From the American Revolution to abolitionism and beyond, Boston has played an outsized role in offering leadership to the entire nation. Now Boston has another opportunity for moral leadership, but it will require some recent troubling events to become an anomaly, not the norm.
Last month, Gordon College President D. Michael Lindsay was singled out by Boston media for signing a letter to President Obama, asking that religious groups be neither advantaged nor disadvantaged in federal contracts because of their beliefs. Contrary to the impression created by many news stories and pundits, this was not some new proposal by the authors of this letter. They were asking for the same kind of religious exemption that was already contained in the 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act — a bill that was passed resoundingly by the Senate (though it languishes in the House); a bill that was supported by both of Massachusetts’ senators; a bill that President Obama supported; and a bill that the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest national gay-rights groups, still supports.
The president, the senators who voted for the exemption in ENDA, and the Human Rights Campaign could hardly be called “holy rollers” or homophobes; but Lindsay’s advocacy for the exemption earned him and Gordon College repeated excoriation for what has been misleadingly characterized as a “request to discriminate” against the LGBT community.
In an environment of overheated rhetoric (perhaps because of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision), let’s consider the facts. The college, to my knowledge, does not deny admission or employment to a gay applicant who is willing, like all applicants, to affirm support for the institution’s Christian tenets and agree to abide by its community standards of behavior. The college continues to be engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogues, the Green Chemistry Education Network, the Accessible Icon (a widely adopted symbol affirming ability over disability) and a wide array of community service projects. I’ve spoken at Gordon, attended conferences at Gordon, and sent students to Gordon because I’ve found it to be a place open to respectful dialogue with those whose ideas or beliefs might run counter to their own.
It’s a sad thing when good institutions and good people are unfairly characterized or misrepresented. It’s the kind of sadness (and anger) that I feel when vitriolic, demeaning or hateful language are directed against people because of their race, gender, or sexual identity. In both cases, we poison our public discourse and undermine our ability to have the critical conversations that can lead to constructive change.
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